CASE STUDIES: 'THEORY AND ECONOMICS - CASE STUDIES: 'THEORY AND PRACTICE IN AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS A pafu#prescmted to the 41st Conference of the Au.vlralkm AgriculltJrf!. and

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    A pafu#prescmted to the 41st Conference of the Au.vlralkm AgriculltJrf!. and Resource A-lm,~-getmmt Economics Society, Gold Coast, 23-25 .kmuary 1997

    Jim Crosthwaite', Neil MacLeodl and BUI Maicolrn1

    1. Depa11ment ofAgrkulfure attd Resource Managetnent, University of Melbourne, ParkviH~ Vic 3053

    2. CStRU 1'rupicQi Agriculturet St Lu!!ia Qld 4067.


    Relevant research solves problems, and solving problems ill present day agriculture and natural resource management increasingly itwolves drawing on krtowledg from a range of disciplines. The mix of disciplinary knowledge appropriate to answes questions depends on the nature of the problem at hand. Research resource CnStraint means that there are trade-.f1ffs between the number of relevant cases which can. be included in an analysis and the di.sciplinary breadth artd depth brought to bear on each case. Thus there is a continuum of research methods from traditional agricultural economics dealing in a shallow way with large numbers of cases and drawing on. a narrow range ofdisciplinary knowledge1 focusshtg on. a few features of ea(fh case, to the classical business management approach which typically deals with few cases and draws on a wide rattge of disciplinary knowledg~ to analyse complex systems in depth. The latter approach, commonly called the case stQdy method1 has a useful role in natural resource economics research. Attention to . thet"a.ucal questions concerning design of the analysis can enhance considerably the value .of the output of case s.r~Jdies~


    Case study methods are frequc~tly employed across a. wide range of social science disciplines including, for example, farm management; business management, marketing and psychology. Within these fields, they have long been regarded as both a legitimate and powerful way of explorirtg research and policy questions. For many reasons, not least th. imperatives and rewards of specialisation, agricultural economists have . generally favoured eonometric techniques de(\ling with a narrow range of information covering a large number of ca~s relating to. the issue in question. the hope is to derive some general conclusions abQQt some aspect of a large number of cases, itvestigated in a narrowly disciplinary and relatively shallow way. By comp!ltison, the case study rnetltod involves exploring fewer exampl~$ at greater depth. The aim of explanatory case studies, as distinQt from e)(pJoratoJY and.

  • descriptive ones, is to investigate a small number of operating systems front many angles and in depth! to obtain insights into the likely impacts of (:banges to different but similar systems.

    We would argue that once accepted as a legitimate research approach, c.ase studies can be employed by agricultural economists to make a valuable contribution to research and policy dcveloptnent. The discounting of the case study method has genemlly taken two forms. On the one hand, case study research has commonly been seen as an ~easy' option that may be usei-ul for teaching purposes, but otherwise inferior to surveys because of limited ability to provide substantive insights beyond the particular case. That is, there is a widely held prejudice against the apparent ability to generalh;e beyond single or, at bestt from a limited array of cases. On the other hand, the case studies that have been carried out with appropriate disciplinary breadth artd depth are generally regarded as being complicated, messy aud~ all Utings considered, simply too hard to carry out and 1neaningfulty use. However, while there is a fair element of truth underpinning the latter viewpoint, it does not fully explain why the technique is largely ignored in agricultural economics yet widely used in other disciplines.

    In this paper, we outline the nature of case studies, their strengths in comparison to other teclmiques, and provide some examples of the type of research for which they are .most appropriate. The ability to generalise from appropriately designed. case study r!!search is also discussed, in particular the fundamental difference in generalisation from case studies {analytical generalisation) as opposed to that from. statistically~b;L..c:ed techniques (statistical generalisation).

    However, in order to successfully generalise from case studies, the true nature and rofe of case study methods needs to be better appreciated and their conduct pursued with. no less. diligence and rigour than other empirical research techniques. In particular, the design phase irt case study research is critical to their successful conduct, and is a. topic of central concern to this paper. It .is illustrated by reference to one of two case study projects that ate currently beit1g developed by the authors which are incorporated within the socio-economic compcment of the National :Remnant Vegetation Pl~ogram. being jointly funded by the Land and: Water Resoutces Research and Development Corporation and the Envirortm~llt Australia Biodiversity Group. The exarnple case study project is centred on livestoek grazing man~gement, and its effects on production and conservation perfonnance in the grassland$ and native pastures of southern New South. Wales and northern Victoria. the second project (which is rtot discussed in this paper) has a similar focus but is located itt the sub-trorical woodlands of southern sub-coastal Queensland. The project c~ example is used to 'illustrate the various phases in the case study design process, from theoretical specification, of tbe issues to dev~loping tests for validity and reliability.

    Issues in choosing a method for our projects

    TtJt policy problem ,\

    The extensive grasslands and woodlands of Austtalia have majot degradation ptobleiJl~ which ate ~f concern from both a production and a conservation viewpoint (e.g~ totbill arid Gillies 1992, .. Department. of Environment, .. Sport and Territories 1996). The pro(>lems vary . frolll region to region. While from, an economi~t' s v;,ewpoint, there rtlJY be in$ufticient pn=cision

  • about the extent and lotation ofthe problems, the scientific tQttuntlllity and ,policymers are in general agteen1ent of a need to address this problem with some urgency,. To tbis .,nd, some major programs a.-e now in place in an attempt to address the problems {e.s. Land and Water Resources R&D Corporation Remnant Native Veget~tion Program, Environ.ment Australia Biodiversity Group ''Save The Hush" Program) . Front a general production viewpoint, the major problems involve loss of vegetative cover (especially from perennial grass species); soU otgrutic content and physical structure decline, and other elements contdbuting to nutrie,nt and water cycling~ as well as intrusive problems such as salinity" acidification. and erosion (e.g. Mcintyre and Mcivor 1996). From a conservation viewpoint~ there are rel$tively .few gl'a.sslands and woodlands that can still be characterised as natural.eCC)systems, and those that remain have a conservation signific(lttce well beyond their size. The~ remaining areas are subject to .many influences (e.g. dearing, weed invasion, overgrazing) wbieh will lead to their loss or to irreversible degradation. Grassy woodland ecosystems ~e under":represented in fonual. reserve systems (e.g. national parks, conservation areas), and this situation is unlikely to be redressed (financially, politically) within the .foreseeable future. Morver, there is a genuine doubt concerning the effectiveness of attempting to preserve such representative ecosystems within a formal reserve system anyway (e~g. Mclntyre 1994).

    The policy probleru arises becau.~e bio-physiciil, social and ecoJtomie aspects are inter-related (e.g. Iiardngton, Wllson and Young l984). The consequences are tnanifest in biophysical terms but also in effects on tanning practices and farm viability. The. causes are primp.riJy socio-econom.ic in character butj once set in train. the changes in bio-physical proeesse$ t@ke on a life of their own. The soluti.ons: will depend on scientific research; but the .possible outcomes,. how they are to be achieved and the pace of achieving them greatly influenced by socio-economic factors and. the action. of many indi.Vidual laud .resource managers. To really understand the likely impact of new tecbuologies, policy .initiatives and/or ex.ternal develo.pments (e.g. climatic change; rnarket changes; trade developments) on patterns oi :resource use that may impact on conservation values, the decision-making processes of individuals and the rich context within which this occur$ ,needs > be better understood. One issue or harrier to real progress~ however, remains the belief (rationally grounded. or otherwise) that community con8rvation objectives are necessarily in cnfli.ct with .Production objectives of' both individual land managers, .jf .not the community itself (e.g. Department of Environmentt Sport and territories .1996)~ De$pite the obvious resource management and :policy implicat.ions; the underlying ._reasons for this petcelvd conflict remains largely unresearched.

    Som irnportllnt conaideration for '"curce mnas.ernent mrch.

    In addressing land resource man~gernent problems. issues of scale are important, from the vieWpOint of both ecology and economics (e.g. HatringtQn, Wilson and Young 1984,. Brown and MacLeod 1996). fanner ~lecisions about either exploiting or conserving teOlll#Dt vegetation are typically made at the whole farm enterprise. .level. HQwever; most *'&ricultutal R&D (including agricultural economics a$sessment of tril data) is conducted, at Slnaller scales (e.g. plots1 land classes and occasionally paddock~) and, thereby~ f~Us to ~ the context within which such decisim)s are typi~ly made. Extension.oftbe result$ c>fluchRAD are, . non